Bleeding Red: Pac-12 race is a marathon, not a sprint, for Runnin’ Utes

Utah’s football season is now over and done
But the Runnin’ Utes’ conference play has just begun
And the Red Rocks’ season is about to begin
With so much to cheer for I can’t contain my grin

COMMENTARY — Just like the proverbial tortoise, the Runnin’ Utes are off to a slow start in conference play, with the hope that steady and sure will eventually put them back in the thick of the Pac-12 title race.

utes logoUtah opened up on the road and dropped both games at Stanford and at Cal. The loss to the Golden Bears is somewhat understandable. However, similar to USC’s loss to Wisconsin in the National Funding Holiday Bowl, and especially UCLA’s loss to Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, the Runnin’ Utes’ overtime loss to the Cardinal is a real head scratcher.

I would like to acknowledge that the Pac-12 is arguably one of the toughest conferences top to bottom, with no gimme games. In other words, any team can beat any other team on any night. And that’s exactly what happened in Utah’s conference opener at Stanford on New Year’s Day.

Leading up to its date with the Runnin’ Utes, the Cardinal had already lost four games — three of them double-digit losses, and a close 2-point loss to Texas at home. In fact, just a few days after beating Utah, Stanford lost another close game at home to Colorado.

The real irony in the Runnin’ Utes’ loss to the Cardinal was that Utah entered the game as the best free throw shooting team in the Pac-12, shooting better than 73 percent as a team. But Utah somehow failed to cash in on its last seven chances from the charity stripe. It cost the Runnin’ Utes the game.

“There are a million different elements to the game,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “Free throws might be the one most glaring, but there are a lot of plays along the way.”

Utah guard Jordan Loveridge was understandably upset after the loss.

“We missed shots, missed free throws. That’s what happened,” said Loveridge, who missed two free throws with 18.9 seconds left in regulation and another two in OT. “Can’t win like that.”

The Golden Bears were ranked No, 14 in the NCAA pre-season poll, with a lot of high hopes pinned to blue-chip freshmen Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. A couple of losses in the Las Vegas Invitational took them out of the national limelight, but Cal has bounced back with three straight double-digit wins, including big conference wins over Utah and Colorado.

Freshman Ivan Rabb was instrumental in lifting Cal past the Runnin' Utes. | Photo courtyesy Cal Athletics
Freshman Ivan Rabb was instrumental in lifting Cal past the Runnin’ Utes. | Photo courtyesy Cal Athletics

Unlike the game against Stanford, which Utah led the lion’s share of the game, the Runnin’ Utes trailed the Golden Bears for most of the contest. Utah cut the deficit to four with two clutch free throws by Jakob Poeltl with 7:08 left to play in the game. But Rabb, Cal’s freshman phenom, came right back at Poeltl on the other end and was fouled, giving Rabb a three-point play. Rabb would go on to score 11 of his 19 points in the last seven minutes as the Golden Bears outscored the Runnin’ Utes 19-10 down the stretch.

Jakob Poeltl led the way for Utah with 19 points and 10 rebounds. But Cal’s two big 7-footers — Kingsley Okorah and Kameron Rooks — made Poeltl work hard for every point and rebound he got.

Next up for Utah is another conference road game against 12-3 Colorado this Friday. Tipoff is off at 7 p.m. MT.

Speaking of Friday, the Red Rocks kick off their season with a home meet on The Hill against BYU at 6 p.m. MT (don’t worry, you can record the basketball game and watch it when you get home).

Tickets are dirt cheap at $7 for upper bowl general admission, or a mere sawbuck (i.e., $10) for a reserved seat in rows 21-31, and topping out at only $30 for the fat cat seats in rows 1-10.

As much as I love watching Utah football and basketball, there is simply no better bang for your buck on The Hill than a gymnastics meet, which I sincerely believe is the most entertaining event to watch live in person. There’s a reason why Utah gymnastics has been the highest attended women’s collegiate sport in recent years (and for a number of years has outdrawn even the Runnin’ Utes in the Huntsman Center).

Utah gymnastics | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Utah gymnastics | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

This season is a watershed moment for the Red Rocks as it will be the first time in 40 years that Greg Marsden will not be at the helm. Marsden retired after last season as the winningest gymnastics coach in NCAA history. He was the sport’s first 1,000-win coach, and ultimately amassed a career record of 1,048-208-8 for an unprecedented 83 percent winning ratio.

Under Marsden’s leadership, the Red Rocks won a record-tying 10 national championships (with a near miss as runners-up in Marsden’s final season, which would have made them undisputed champs). All 40 of Marsden’s teams qualified for the national championships, including national bests for number of finishes in the top five (30), top three (23), and top two (19).

This year, Marsden joins the Pac-12 Network’s broadcasting team, which will cover 27 total gymnastics meets, including Utah’s home opener against BYU on Friday, and eight of the Red Rocks’ 10 meets overall.

With the departure of Greg Marsden, Megan Marsden will continue on as a co-head coach of the Red Rocks, sharing her duties with Tom Farden. New assistant coach Meredith Paulicivic (a former Red Rock herself) also brings some innovative choreography to the floor, which was on full display in the Red Rocks Preview last month.

Here’s hoping Utah gets a two-for on Friday night as the Runnin’ Utes get back on track with a big road win over Colorado and the Red Rocks win their home opener against BYU.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


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